Features - Entrepreneurial Alumni

Charles Canning-Smith

Charles Canning-Smith

Posted 01 October 2017

New York Programme

May 2000 Intake


Charles, a graduate of the University of Northumbria, UK, is the CEO of Chocolate Mobile, that markets apps, games and content for smart phones on a revenue share basis. He does this all over the world (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America and India to name a few), by partnering with games developers and interesting content providers who have a great product but need help to tap into global markets. Charles is also a Managing Partner at Ballpark Ventures, a venture capital firm with a focus on the mobile and early-stage technology segments.

We seek unusually talented teams intent on building businesses that can grow exponentially to create or transform an industry. Part of this role involves assessing and selecting new companies to invest in and the other side involves mentoring and helping the companies within our portfolio to grow and implement successful strategies. To date, we have invested in over 20 companies covering sectors ranging from location and behavioural mobile advertising to cognitive mapping & AI.

How did you get into this line of business?
My time with the Mountbatten Programme was a huge influence on my decision to set up my own company. I spent a year in New York working in the Empire State Building as an analyst for a research and advisory firm focused on emerging technologies. The role was interesting and I was very fortunate that I worked directly for the CEO who was a great mentor. I would regularly accompany the CEO to briefings in which a lot of interesting tech companies ranging from cool start-ups, to Fortune 100 companies such as Microsoft and IBM would talk to us about their new products and the cool things they were doing around our areas of expertise. I learnt a huge amount about the tech space, and meeting with all these exciting companies planted a desire to do something entrepreneurial myself. Essentially, I realised that I wanted to be on the other side of the table, rather than writing and advising about it.
My time on the Programme in New York and the experience I gained has also been a huge help with my venture capital role. There are many parallels between VCs and Research & Advisory firms. Obviously, now the briefings involve tech start-ups pitching for investment, but we always try to offer constructive advice and feedback to everyone we meet with. What I really enjoy about the VC space is that we work closely with our portfolio and we get to come along on their journey in a much more personal and rewarding way.

What else is in the pipeline?
My plans involve opening up more markets and territories for my company. The mobile space is continually evolving and I am genuinely excited to see what interesting and new products are developed and need taking to market. In addition, I am looking forward to seeing how the current companies we have invested in develop, and hopefully some of them can go on to change the world.

What has been the proudest moment in your working life thus far?
I made my dad the chairman of my company. We have always been very close and it was great to have someone I love and respect so much be a part of my own professional journey. Sadly, my dad died of cancer this year but I’m very proud of what we have been able to achieve together.

What has been your biggest mistake/learning experience?
I think one of the biggest mistakes I made in business was trying to do it all on my own. It got me going but over time it definitely held me back. I’ve learnt its better to surround yourself with talented people and you will also enjoy the journey a lot more. There is an African proverb that says: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
When I got into the VC space the biggest mistake I made was thinking the quality of the idea was the key. When it comes to investing, it’s all about the people and the size of the potential market. That's it!
On a personal level, I think travelling has been my biggest learning experience. Going to New York with the Mountbatten Programme started the ball rolling and since then I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world with my work. I love meeting new people and experiencing different cultures. I don’t think any of us ever stop learning and I always come back invigorated and excited about the endless opportunities and possibilities the world offers.

Any words of advice/wisdom would you impart to others thinking of setting up their own business?
I love the book The Magic of Thinking Big by David J Schwartz. It’s full of great advice and inspirational quotes that hold very true in life and business. Such as “Those who believe they can move mountains, do. Those who believe they can't, cannot.”
The other advice I would offer is to focus on validating your ideas cheaply and quickly before you invest huge amount of time and money on something. There is a great book called the Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries that is a must read for any aspiring entrepreneur.